Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Georg Elser

Last week, my German language and Political Science professor, Leo (the one who led the tour of Salzburg), took us on another tour, this time around parts of Munich. There is way too much information for me to convey to you on here, so I figured I'd share a snippet or two that might be interesting (if you already know this story, my apologies). Note here that I'm taking very liberally from Leo's telling.

You know the movie "Inglorious Basterds?" Well, that assassination attempt on Hitler isn't nearly as cool as the real thing (I'm exaggerating a little bit, that was a pretty intense assassination attempt, but still fictitious). So the Nazi Party came into power in 1932 and by 1939 it becomes apparent to a carpenter, Georg Elser, that Nazism and Hitler could only lead Germany to war and that war would be the end of Germany. So he decided to do something about it, namely kill Hitler.

Now it just so happened that every year on November 8th Hitler gave a speech to the inner ranks and "good ol' boys" of the Nazi Party at the Buergerbraukeller, a bierhall in Munich. His speech usually lasted from 6PM to 8PM and Elser decided that this was the best place at which to strike. Elser couldn't very well get an invitation to the party--he was a nobody and certainly wouldn't be able to infiltrate the inner rankings of the Nazi party--dude was a carpenter. He was not, however, stupid, the first decision he made was not to tell a single soul what he was doing or how he was doing it--the more allies, the more chances of betrayal.

He started by taking a job in a quarry and slowly, over the course of months, took small portions of explosives little by little home with him. That way, no one noticed that anything was missing. He then taught himself how to build a timebomb. It's not like he could take a class on it (that might, perhaps, arouse suspicion?) or look it up the internet, but he figured it out.

Once he had collected enough explosives and studied bomb-making, he came to the Buergerbraukeller every night, sneaked into the bathroom right before closing, and stayed there until everyone left for the night. Once the coast was clear, he took his flashlight and his carpentry tools and set to work chiseling away at the column in front of which Hitler would give his speech. There was a janitor on watch at night with a guard dog, so Elser had to study the janitor's schedule to know when he would come around to that area of the hall and turn off his flashlight. He also needed to make sure that he and the dog were buddies so it didn't bark when they came by.

Hitler at the Buergerbraukeller, Munich
Over the course of months, Elser whittled out a space for his bomb, every night plastering it back up to look like nothing had happened and carting away all debris. Finally November 8th came along, the bomb was planted and set to go off in the middle of Hitler's speech, and Elser hopped on a train to Switzerland. The bomb went off perfectly, blowing away the column and surrounding areas, killing quite a few people. The problem, however, was that Hitler wasn't there. He had to travel to Berlin later that night, but fog on the runway made flying not an option and instead he had to cut his speech short to catch a train to Berlin instead. Elser missed Hitler by 8 minutes.

After the bomb went off, trains going in and out of the country were searched for the culprit. Elser would have gotten away except that in his pocket were a trigger and a postcard, stating that he had killed Hitler--he wanted to present them to the Swiss government to insure immunity (and probably fame, too). But the police caught him and tortured him for the rest of his life. The reason they didn't just kill him straight off was because they did not believe that one man would be able to plan and execute what he had done (they suspected a British plot), so they tried to get it out of him and intended to put him on trial. In 1945, when the war was coming to an end, his execution was ordered and on 9 April 1945 he was executed at Dachau at the age of 35.
Plaque where the column used to stand, where Elser planted his bomb. 

8 Freaking Minutes.

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